For weeks the conversation surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals and the trade deadline has been intriguing. Their underachieving record makes some fans scream “SELL!”. Meanwhile their position in an underwhelming division makes going “all-in” an interesting proposition. Based on the quotes coming out of Bill Dewitt, Jr., John Mozeliak, and Mike Girsch, the team is looking to add for 2017 and beyond (as opposed to renting) and will entertain moving some pending free agents if the right move comes along. This is the smartest approach anyway. A Cubs/Astros level tanking just wouldn’t fly (though some crazies try to claim otherwise) with this baseball dependent fan base. But as much as the questions have been about who the Cardinals could or should acquire, of equal importance is the question of what trade assets do they hold. Simply put, they have plenty.
Control is Key in the Trade Market
If we learned anything over this past offseason, it’s that team control (be it contractual or arbitration rights) is an extremely valuable thing. When Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were put on the market it was understood that they would fetch very good returns, based solely on their talents. What allowed the White Sox to ask for the world was the fact that both players had very team friendly contracts that extended for several years. Not only were you getting a stud player, he would be affordable and would not be going anywhere for some time.
This is the same reason that Cleveland gave up a top flight package for Andrew Miller last season, knowing they would have him for 2 additional years. The reason that Jose Quintana was not moved in the White Sox fire sale is because of his team friendly contract driving the asking price up. While he is a very, very good pitcher, I believe he is sitting right on the threshold between very good and great, and teams were reluctant to give up some of the best prospects in the game for “very good”. We’ll see how that changes at the deadline.
While the Cardinals may not have the top-teir talent of a Sale or Eaton, they have several major league caliber players under control for several years. Those are valuable assets to have when entering into trade discussions. While we moan and groan about having a million complementary players in the organization, many teams would love to get their hands on 2 or 3 of those pieces. (Note: contract/control info from Spotrac.com).
The Gathering Storm (of Outfielders)
This organization has long been known for producing quality pitching, and that hasn’t changed. Pitching is still the organizational strength. However, as the old adage says, you can never have too much pitching. So while it may seem like a backlog at times, in a world of fickle arms, it really isn’t. In this organization, the backlog is forming in the outfield. In the Major Leagues alone the Cardinals don’t have room for all of their outfielders, recently booting solid reserve Jose Martinez to AAA.
Then, at AAA, you have Harrison Bader leading the system in HR and Cuban import Jose Adolis Garcia making a nice adjustment to playing in the States for the first time. Both of these men could be making waves on a big league club, at least as quality 4th outfielders. Behind them in AA is a stud outfield of Magneuris Sierra, Randy Arozarena, and Oscar Mercado. Dylan Carlson is making noise in Peoria and recently drafted Terry Fuller could have the most power in the system. All these players will need room to rise in 2018, meaning some space must be cleared at the top.
Adding to the crowded outfield is the fact that Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty are signed to long term contracts. Fowler isn’t going anywhere, but Piscotty’s cost certainty could be attractive to other teams. Though he is showing poorly this year, he is a smart man. He likely ditches what looks like a failed swing change and gets back to his old form in the offseason. Teams on the rebuild will see the value that he could bring. Randal Grichuk is what he is, but he is also controlled (by arbitration) through the 2020 season. Again, with that kind of control, teams would be willing to bet on his upside as it would be low risk in a rebuild. Tommy Pham also has made himself a valuable trade asset. Although he is 29 and out of options, he is under team control through 2021.
It’s not just the outfield
Let’s flashback a month or so to the starting infield of Carpenter, Wong, Diaz and Gyorko. The entire foursome is under control through 2020 (Carpenter and Gyorko both have club options). I consider Aledmys Diaz to be the most likely to be moved in that group. Paul Dejong is set up to have his arbitration push back and essentially be under team control for the first 7 years of his career. The same goes for Luke Voit. Only 7 players in the entire organization are not controlled through 2020. Lance Lynn, Seung-hwan Oh, and Zach Duke are pending free agents. Following 2018 Adam Wainwright and Trevor Rosenthal will be unrestricted free agents. Then, after 2019, Michael Wacha and Kevin Siegrist will be able to test the free agent waters. That’s it. They are not the Kansas City Royals, this team is flush with player control.
What does it mean?
It means that the Cardinals can include pretty much anyone they want (outside of Wainwright, Yadi, and Fowler) in a trade package. Everyone at the big league level and a handful at AAA are at the very least, average Major Leaguers. Twitter runs rampant with proposed trade packages full of top prospects, but we should not forget about the controlled players already in St. Louis. Because of the 3+ years of control that most of the players carry, some of them are as valuable (depending on the trade partner, maybe more valuable) as the high-floor/low-ceiling, unproven prospects in the system. I fully expect the Cardinals to be moving players from the current 25-man roster over the next few weeks, and not just the obvious free-agents-to-be. We won’t be waiting until April 1, 2018, to see new faces. No, this team will very look different on August 1, 2017.
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